“ANCIENT HISTORY 101″ —Cartoon below.
The “Ancient History 101” cartoon below sums up the civilizational impact of the China-, or corona-, virus plague as it continues to cut a devastating global swath. What was normal and unremarked-upon a few short weeks ago—moving about as we wished, travelling, enjoying group events like sports, theatre, and worship, eating “out”, planning for the near, and distant, future, being with and embracing those we love—seems today distant and remarkable. We are unsure whether the past, receding so rapidly, can or will ever be restored to what it was.
This plague, entirely unforeseen by our “experts” and “leaders”, is rendering the cultural-political givens of our once-lived lives provisional and impermanent. To paraphrase an apocalyptic prophet of an earlier age, “all that was solid seems to melt into air”, and one hears again the proverbial, despairing millennial plaint, “Give me a stable point, where I can stand firm”.
Many recent assumptions, liberal and conservative, about social stability and material well-being are turning into smoke as the global infection-and death-rates spiral up, in Italy and Spain and France, and the U.S., Britain, Canada, and Australia, with eastern Europe, Latin America, East Asia and Africa now a bit belatedly bringing up the rear.
As I write, three and a half million Americans applied for unemployment relief in the week ending March 21, an all-time record, with many more expected by month’s end. In New York the Stock Market, mirroring exchanges world-wide, fell into Depression territory, with some analysts predicting American unemployment by year’s end at ca.30% (worse than post-1929). One Canadian dollar dropped to US $0.70 cents, Alberta crude oil sank to Can.$4.00/barrel, and the Canadian national debt, estimated in February to be $28 billion, is now—given Parliament’s multi-billion dollar emergency relief plan—expected to reach at least $120 billion, or more, before year’s end.
As some economists begin using the “D”-word, President Trump in the U.S. sought and gained Congressional approval for a $2.3 trillion program of individual and corporate unemployment and tax relief, the largest in history. The post-Brexit European Union’s vaunted supra-national border-less Schengen vision has largely collapsed, as each panicked nation, seeking to protect is own people, seals off its territory. NATO is hastily being pressed into trying to fill a civilian role, and the United Nations (and its incompetent, China-dominated World Health Organization) has shown itself, once again, to be largely irrelevant.
In the U.S., the “major media”, while not giving President Trump the support one might expect a severe national crisis to elicit, have nevertheless largely shifted their coverage from “Trump Derangement Syndrome” to virus-related issues. The impending election (postponing it is now being raised) is largely forgotten, and as Trump dominates dramatic daily virus-update news conferences, his fumbling Democratic rival, Biden, gives largely-unwatched teleprompter-based interviews from his living-room.
Corona-virus out of China, the new plague, has re-directed the world’s attention away from old verities and concerns to more narrowly national and existentially pressing issues. This has produced the remarkable circumstance that, finally, the presumed debilities and transgressions of the Jewish state in the Middle East are no longer the obsessive focus of the world’s media. The ending of Israel’s year-long political paralysis, after three indecisive national votes, with Benni Gantz deserting leadership of his Blue-White bloc to enter coalition negotiations with Bibi Netanyahu’s Likud, attracted little more than minor, momentary media attention.
Yet Israel now has a broad and stable center-right ruling coalition, in the steady and experienced hands of the sempiternal P.M., Netanyahu. And this as both Israel and the Arab states confront the spreading corona-virus crisis. Indeed, the Arab regimes, and even the Palestinians, are so preoccupied with the looming pandemic that for once they (if not the Iranians, who—in the midst of their suffering–are threatening that they have enough uranium for a nuclear weapon) are de facto cooperating epidemiologically with the Jewish state.
We are still, of course, far from achieving that oft-proclaimed, and ever-receding, mirage, “a New Middle East”. Lions and lambs are not yet together in the manger. The Russians remain (with Iran and Hezbollah, and Turkey’s Erdogan) in Syria, two U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups have recently been sent to the region (one, the USS Theodore Roosevelt, currently becalmed with corona-virus cases in Guam!), Libya remains (to mix metaphors) a tinder-box of a basket-case, Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan and Mali et al all remain unstable, and so on. Yet even the Middle East seems to be being jolted into a newfound inward-turning stasis as, inexorably, the viral plague spreads.
(The Palestinians, a special case, deserve a bit more consideration. Whether in Gaza or the West Bank, they have never been weaker, never more divided, never less able to attract world attention and concern. And given Bibi’s electoral triumph, and Trump’s growing public-opinion approval in the midst of U.S. crisis, never have the Palestinians—without an effective state structure, economically backward, and possessed of barely minimal public-health resources–been more susceptible, once the virus crisis lifts, to hard-nosed, joint U.S.-Israeli “peace plan” pressure.)
So, as a plague-ridden Pesach approaches, Israel and the Jewish world, like the world generally, faces disorientation, disaggregation, and suffering in face of the still-virulent virus. Yet while down, we are far from out, and—after a period of confusion and uncertainty—we are finally directing the full panoply of Western medical-technical-public health and emergency economic resources against the disease. In this regard, Israel, with its disciplined population, compact geography, and remarkable scientific-technical-medical abilities, is well-placed–not only to defend itself, but to contribute to the well-being of the region, and the world.
Stepping back from the day-to-day struggle and individual deaths and sadness, so long as societies can maintain the steady provision of basic resources and services—above all, clean water, and electricity, basic IT services, pharmaceutical production, and adequate hospital-medical access–they can avoid crises and will more than survive. We will also need patience, discipline, forbearance, and determination—and the day-to-day heroism of ordinary people, of health service and transportation and food-supply workers, persons doing their jobs despite daily exposure to peril.
As Jews we should also remember that our tradition teaches that our purpose in this world is to do mitzvoth, to live free and responsible, loving and joyful, lives and to support one another. It is a vision, and a lesson, being retaught and relearned once again today, as we celebrate the Passover holiday while respecting quarantines and six-foot separations, and using screens and social media to make (electronic) familial Seders possible.
In the Tanakh’s Psalms of Ascent, Psalm 121 tells us (it is CIJR’s emblem) that “netsach Yisrael, lo yishaker—“the Protector of Israel will never forget us”. It is a lesson, like Passover’s vision of freedom, which has instructed and comforted us as a People throughout our often difficult, and sometimes tragic, history. And it speaks to us again today, here in Diaspora and in our Jewish State as, supporting and comforting one another and working together, we will not only endure, but will finally overcome the current crisis.
To read the FULL ISRAFAX Edition in PDF click: https://1drv.ms/b/s!AnyU0Md9_UQQj-s71PawbCNTXcGYHA
Be well, and have a happy, and safe, Pesach.
(Prof. Frederick Krantz, editor of ISRAFAX, is Director of the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research)